October 3rd, 2014
12:05 AM ET

China’s trapped transition

By Fareed Zakaria

The historical case as to why China should be moving toward greater democracy is clear. Scholars have argued that there is a “zone of transition” for authoritarian countries when this happens — between $5,000 to $10,000 per capita GDP (in purchasing power terms). China is at the top of the range, around $10,000. Given China’s level of economic, social and educational development, it is highly unusual that China, among Asian nations, has seen almost no movement toward political reform.

Minxin Pei argues that perhaps what explains the Chinese anomaly is that the ruling elites have been united, confident and ferocious in their determination to maintain a one-party system. In Taiwan, after Chiang Ching-kuo’s death, the elites split, as they did in South Korea, Indonesia and, of course, the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev. That split, between a reformist wing and a hard-line wing, has not happened in China.

Read the Washington Post column

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Topics: Fareed's Take

soundoff (61 Responses)
  1. gung ho

    Can we say china?
    If so, fat so

    October 3, 2014 at 12:20 am |
  2. rupert

    China is ok with a one party system. Maybe that is why they dont throw away their money wastefully like the United States federal government, banasy and Linda.

    October 3, 2014 at 12:25 am |
  3. rupert

    Thats right linda. U order a $100 monkey brain dinner on a date and hardly touch your meal.
    I would never date somebody like that.

    October 3, 2014 at 12:28 am |
  4. China

    China has a "chink" in their political system. But hey, it could be worse. It could be like the US system.

    October 3, 2014 at 9:51 am |
    • Gerald O'Hare

      Well put, China. Our own economy is about to crash so we will need China more than ever. Let's just hope those troublemakers in Honk Kong don't succeed in their endeavors.

      October 3, 2014 at 10:20 am |
      • Gerald O'Hare

        Sorry folks. I never posted that stupid comment above. Some jerk is trying to make a fool out of me. Our economy will not crash. The GNP and domestic economy is the strongest in the world. Let's remember, we are living in a free enterprise more so than a democracy. Russia and China have opened their eyes just recently.

        October 3, 2014 at 11:25 am |
      • Gerald O'Hare

        Just where do you come off stealing my screen name? I posted at 10:20 and I would thank you to kindly stop mimicking me!

        October 3, 2014 at 12:48 pm |
      • Gerald O'Hare


        October 3, 2014 at 1:49 pm |
  5. Bull in a China shop

    Well, at least they don't act like a Bull in a China shop, like the 800 lb Gorilla US does, breaking everything it touches, wherever it goes, meddling on its merry way....

    October 3, 2014 at 10:25 am |
    • rupert

      Well put, Bull in a China shop. Ain't that the truth? You betcha!

      October 3, 2014 at 2:36 pm |
      • rupert


        October 3, 2014 at 3:29 pm |
  6. George patton

    We should invaded China during WWII. And unlike Germany, not given any land back.

    October 3, 2014 at 10:50 am |
    • George patton

      Good grief, Phunnie boy, you're really living up to your name. During WW2, China was partly under J apanese control and the Chinese were fighting on our side. Moreover Phunnie boy, do you have any notion of how much it would cost the U.S. To occupy a country of 1.5 billion people? Evidently not!!!

      October 3, 2014 at 11:53 am |
      • George patton

        Come on fake George patton at 11:53. You know we should have finished the job in WWII and destroyed NK. Had we done so, there would be no Kim today causing so much misery to his own people. Had we gone into NK, China would have turned against us. Wake up! Smell the roses.

        October 3, 2014 at 2:23 pm |
  7. Joseph McCarthy

    You know what gets my goat George? The United States is policing the world. We fight terrrrorists. And China just sits back. They don't lift a finger to help.

    October 3, 2014 at 11:02 am |
    • George patton

      Why should they, Joseph or whoever you are?

      October 3, 2014 at 11:55 am |
  8. the bottom line

    Guys, here is the bottom line. With just 10 politicians in the Chinese Politburo, and one Premier at the top, for 20 years if need be, they have achieved much, much, much more than the US has achieved, over the last 30 years, and the US has 600+ politicians in the Senate and Congress and the White House together, arguing with each other in circles, until the cows come home, and achieving nothing else! hmmmmmm, I wonder which political system is working better???

    October 3, 2014 at 12:55 pm |
    • and they took all our jobs too

      And while they quietly morphed into an amazing new giant, with a veneer of communism on the surface, and a giant capitalist machine underneath, they took all our friggin' jobs from us, while our 600+ politicians had no clue what was happening, and just sat on their duffs because they had no friggin' idea what to do about it...... while the Chinese Dragon laughed all the way to the bank..........

      October 3, 2014 at 1:03 pm |
      • rupert

        Don't you think that dragging us into all these useless wars had anything to do with it? Just how many foreign wars did China jump into lately and who's trying to control the Middle East? The defense rests!

        October 3, 2014 at 2:38 pm |
      • thanks rupert

        You nailed it, my friend. Bomb, bomb, bomb USA is finding out that its Bomb, bomb, bomb strategy falls flat on its face, when compared against the smart Chinese strategy.............. guess who is winning?????????

        October 3, 2014 at 3:16 pm |
      • Thomas

        Rupert is a personal friend of mine. And I doubt profusely that he would appreciate you stealing his name. Who ever you are. So please stop. This is not your personal playground.
        Thank you.

        October 3, 2014 at 5:17 pm |
      • Joseph McCarthy

        Well put, rupert. Thank you.

        October 3, 2014 at 6:21 pm |
  9. Thomas

    Toooo many people !

    50% of the worlds natural wildlife has been destroyed in the last 30 years .

    China , Russia , India won't agree to any environmental rules .

    October 3, 2014 at 1:26 pm |
    • Thomas the Tank Engine

      Thomas, please go back to being a Tank Engine........ that was your calling, remember? Your comments on here are funny and ignorant. Period.

      October 3, 2014 at 3:12 pm |
      • Mel

        Fuck off, idiot. Dumb dick.

        October 3, 2014 at 3:26 pm |
      • Mel showing us his intellectual level?

        My, my, my......... somebody's upset about something? My dear Mel, by using such profanity, in your very first comment, you have declared your intellectual level to all of us right away............. hmmmmmmmmmmmmm, guess what we think of you??? never mind.............

        October 3, 2014 at 3:31 pm |
      • Joseph McCarthy

        Please Mel,I don't mind having my name stolen here for the sake of self-amusement but do refrain from that filthy Tea Party lingo. Like I said so many times before, it has no place here!

        October 3, 2014 at 6:16 pm |
      • Mel is tired of your rubbish

        Your continued garbage is nauseating. Eat a dick.

        October 3, 2014 at 9:24 pm |
      • palintwit

        @mel. Oh my. Such filthy tea-party language. Most inappropriate for these boards. Please leave your dirty language and lack of intelligence in your own home.
        Thank you.

        October 3, 2014 at 10:43 pm |
  10. j. von hettlingen

    China finds itself in a "trapped transition" because its political system prevents it from making progress. It is a victim of "Red Capitalism". Red is China's political colour – Communism. While it had adopted pro-market policies, it has still kept its one-party rule and "made almost no moves toward openness". China is certainly an anomaly as it has proven that economic development doesn't necessarily lead to more democracy.

    October 3, 2014 at 3:13 pm |
    • j. von hettlingen

      Indeed this success formula is approaching its sell-by date. Both economic and political reforms are necessary for China to maintain its position as the world's second largest economy. But the party is reluctant to adopt necessary reforms, due to the extensive state involvement in the economy. The Chinese Communist Party has over 83 million members, the biggest party in the world. Membership brings high status and significant privileges, like desirable government jobs and a chance to lay hands on public assets. It's not what, but whom you know, that matters. This gives rise to cronyism and pervasive corruption, breeding a class of predatory officials.

      October 3, 2014 at 3:13 pm |
      • j. von hettlingen

        It's true that "events in Hong Kong are unlikely to spill over into the mainland", as Chinese authorities are apt to contain hostile influences from the outside. It's quite unlikely that China would adopt the Singapore model – based on its one-party system. It works in a city-state, but not in a country with 1.3 billion inhabitants.

        October 3, 2014 at 3:15 pm |
      • j. von hettlingen

        There's no desire for reforms and "the ruling elites have been united, confident and ferocious in their determination to maintain a one-party system". Xi sees the collapse of the Soviet Union as a lesson for radical changes, saying a gradual reform is safer than a "shock therapy".

        October 3, 2014 at 3:18 pm |
    • thanks jvh

      Thanks j. von. hettlingen. I love reading your informed comments. But let's face it. The Western World's butt is getting soundly kicked, by China, so your wonderful explanations are really rather moot.

      October 3, 2014 at 3:20 pm |
  11. Thomas

    @Thomas the Tank Engine
    Earth has lost half of its wildlife in the past 40 years, says WWF ... While population has risen fourfold in the last century.

    Your comments on here are funny and ignorant. Period ?

    October 3, 2014 at 3:38 pm |
    • Joseph McCarthy

      I don't mind these funny and ignorant comments here Thomas as I do that filthy Tea Party lingo!

      October 3, 2014 at 6:19 pm |
  12. rupert

    Who wants pepperoni pizza?

    October 3, 2014 at 7:07 pm |
  13. Thomas

    I do! I do!
    Thin and crispy please.

    October 3, 2014 at 10:38 pm |
  14. rupert

    No pizza for you Thomas.

    October 3, 2014 at 11:00 pm |
  15. rupert

    Tank Engines don't eat pizza. remember?

    October 3, 2014 at 11:37 pm |
  16. rupert

    Move on troll.

    October 3, 2014 at 11:41 pm |
  17. Chelsea

    I mean these juvenile comments are reflective of mentally sick people on opioids. I am outta here.

    October 4, 2014 at 6:57 am |
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Me too, Chelsea. I'm sick and tired of all these clowns here with nothing on their tiny minds and especially their use of that filthy Tea party profanity. They're spoiling these discussions for the rest of us! Thank you.

      October 4, 2014 at 10:04 am |
    • K.T.

      They're no more sick than your comments on Netanyahu. Hitting the sauce a bit early aren't you?

      October 4, 2014 at 12:17 pm |
  18. rupert

    Chelsea, be gone with your bad self.

    October 4, 2014 at 10:05 am |
    • rupert

      Sorry Chelsea, I never posted the above. These idiots here make me sick, too!

      October 4, 2014 at 10:43 am |
  19. China's trapped transition, excuse me?

    Fareed, excuse me, this time I have to differ with you, which is rare. You may have a point about China not being able to change over to a fully democratic political system, without massive bloodshed happening, but that has in no way constipated their growth! The Western viewpoint is to always assume that their way is the better way. But, we have to understand, that nobody ever in history, could come up with an amazing system, with just 10 politicians running a nation of 1.2 billion people, that then proceed to kick the entire world's behind. So maybe we in the West, can learn from them, and morph into a more streamlined and less wasteful political system? Didn't you learn anything from all those one-on-one chats you have had with Dr. Kissinger? He really understands China. And he has told all of us, on your show, that the Chinese have actually led the world for 1800 of the last 2000 years! So yes indeed, it is the (not so awesome anymore) West, that has been constipated by China. Everything we buy, is made over there! And no matter how many laxatives we ingest, no poo poo is coming..........

    October 4, 2014 at 12:19 pm |
    • fun stuff

      Hilarious comment! Yes indeed, Asia has put a "ceiling" on the growth of the Western World, over the last 20 years. Most people in the West either have no clue or dare not admit it. "Hey, not so awesome anymore Western World: Asia (China being the giant within) has created a downward spiral for you. Hope you enjoy your ride. It is going to be your last, you know." Oh never mind. You don't know. Feeling a little constipated lately?

      October 4, 2014 at 12:30 pm |
      • K.T.

        You wrote the hilarious comment. You are perhaps a fractured personality? I can see your avatar. You merely changed your name.

        October 4, 2014 at 1:23 pm |
  20. chri§§y

    @ fun stuff...it wasnt Asia that did this to the US, it was our very own government!

    October 4, 2014 at 1:49 pm |
  21. chri§§y

    Asia just took advantage of a very good opportunity that was handed to them on a silver platter. Cant fault them for that now can we?

    October 4, 2014 at 1:51 pm |
    • that's one way of looking at it

      good point chrissy. But we also have to realize that Asia provided the opportunity to many greedy CEO's in the Western World, by providing an educated, hard working people, a good infra structure, rapidly built and improved upon to handle the incoming jobs, and the cheaper labor work force. The greed of the West, did the rest. Which, btw, is part of Chinese philosophy: you use your opponent's weakness or strength, to defeat your opponent.

      October 4, 2014 at 2:20 pm |
  22. chri§§y

    So we should place no blame on our government and their tax code which was the very factor that initiated the outsorcing of manufacturing jobs?

    October 4, 2014 at 2:58 pm |
  23. chri§§y

    Manufacturing employment collapsed from a high of 19.5 million workers in June 1979 to 11.5 million workers in Dec 2009, a drop of 8 million workers over 30 years. Between Aug 2000 and Feb 2004 manufacturing jobs were lost for a stunning 43 consecutive months–the longest such stretch since the Great Depression.
    Manufacturing Plants have also declined sharply in the last decade, shrinking by more than 51 thousand plants, or 12.5%, between 1998 and 2008. These stable middle-class jobs have been the driving force of the US economy for decades and these losses have done considerable damage to communities accross the country.
    Now if you and i can see this is a problem, how is it that the very people WE employ to govern this country cannot???

    October 4, 2014 at 3:12 pm |
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